21 March 2009

Some Thoughts on Church Attendance, The Welfare State and The Family

There is an interesting connection between the welfare state in this country and church attendance. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by W. Bradford Wilcox points out that, The secular tide appears to be running strongest among young Americans. Religious attendance among those 21 to 45 years old is at its lowest level in decades, according to Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow. Only 25% of young adults now attend services regularly, compared with about one-third in the early 1970s.

The most powerful force driving religious participation down is the nation's recent retreat from marriage, Mr. Wuthnow notes. Nothing brings women and especially men into the pews like marriage and parenthood, as they seek out the religious, moral and social support provided by a congregation upon starting a family of their own. But because growing numbers of young adults are now postponing or avoiding marriage and childbearing, they are also much less likely to end up in church on any given Sunday.
Sounds bad enough, eh? He continues by pointing out that, Now, President Barack Obama seems poised to give secularism in America another boost, however inadvertently...the president's audacious plans for the expansion of the government -- from the stimulus to health-care reform to a larger role in education -- are likely to spell trouble for the vitality of American religion. His $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal 2010 would bring federal, state and local spending to about 40% of the gross domestic product -- within hailing distance of Europe, where state spending runs about 46% of GDP. The European experience suggests that the growth of the welfare state goes hand in hand with declines in personal religiosity.

A recent study of 33 countries by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde found an inverse relationship between religious observance and welfare spending. Countries with larger welfare states, such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, had markedly lower levels of religious attendance, affiliation and trust in God than countries with a history of limited government, such as the U.S., the Philippines and Brazil. Public spending amounts to more than one half of the GDP in Sweden, where only 4% of the population regularly attends church. By contrast, public spending amounts to 18% of the Philippines' GDP, and 68% of Filipinos regularly attend church.

What will almost certainly happen? The president's plans will make it ever more possible for the American public to turn away from their churches and/or church attendance and look to the government to satisfy their various needs. We already see this occuring all around us from education to health care.

Wilcox concludes by stating, This is not to say that the health of the American religious sector depends only on some level of economic or social dislocation to attract people to congregations. Many Americans are religious for reasons that have nothing to do with the mutual aid found in churches and charities, such as the desire to be in a personal relationship with God or to keep faith with important family traditions. But the reasons for going to church are not so easily separated. And many of those who initially turn to religious organizations for mutual aid end up developing a faith that is as supernatural as it is material. But first they need to enter the door.

So my friends, how do you and I, the regular church attending American, concerned about the religious and spiritual state of our country, proceed from here?

Read the entire article here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, on the one hand, even if people are just in church for the services they might receive there, they'll still be exposed to the gospel, and that's a good thing.

On the other hand, perhaps it'll be good if the churches have fewer people in the pews who are there for ulterior motives. Not for some sense of "purer" church, but simply to make the battle lines a little clearer, to make it more obvious where the gospel work needs to take place. It's difficult to evangelize people who aren't Christian but think they are.